Bringing medical innovation into the market in the UK and internationally
Sarah Rickwood
Nov 21, 2019

Insights from the IQVIA Biotech UK conference, 2019

What’s the state of Biotech in the UK and beyond – in terms of funding, innovation, policy and commercialisation? European Thought Leadership’s Sarah Rickwood chaired a panel at IQVIA Biotech conference on November 7th, in a conference attended by financiers, policy makers, biotech entrepreneurs and scientists. This article summarises some of the key themes from a day packed with insights from all participants, offering a unique insight into the “State of the Nation” not just for UK Biotech, but beyond.

The day kicked off with a discussion about the money that drives the whole innovation engine, with investment banker and investors Gil Bar-Nahum from Jeffries International, Catrin Dilloway from Innovate UK and Dan Mahony from Polar Capital in a roundtable following a presentation by Martin Turner of the UK’s BioIndustry Association. The focus of discussion was on what makes investors invest.  All panellists agreed that scientific innovation alone, however, novel and strong, was insufficient to attract investors. Start-ups need a realistic and clear business plan that addresses the eventual commercial realities likely for the eventual product, including the payer perspective and market access environment. Founders of start-ups, often experts steeped in the basic research, will have much to learn about the realities of the commercial and real-world environment in which their ideas will bear fruit. They may have to take the tough decision to stand aside for a business-focused CEO as their company transitions to launch preparation mode. They will certainly need to take on board external advice and support as their product becomes a commercial reality.

Innovation is supporting the development of new approaches to improving health as never before. A key theme for Biotech these days is the innovation is not just in the molecule – it’s in the data that is being built to help identify unmet need, define patient populations, speed trials and evaluate products. The UK is a global hotspot for activities to develop robust, quality and linked patient data, at scale.  The next session provided insights into initiatives building this data out in the Genomic, the wider healthcare system, and the Cancer-specific arenas.  Will Spooner, of Genomics England, with which IQVIA has major strategic collaboration on our E360 platform, made the case for selecting genetically supported targets or indications, which has the potential to double the success rate of clinical development. Interest in the clinical applications of genomics data has grown rapidly among big Pharma, for example GSK’s partnership with the private genomics firm 23andMe, but it is also possible for Biotechs to work with one of the world’s largest and highest quality genomics database, the over 100,000 genomes collected by Genomics England. This database possesses breadth (115,000+ genomes sequenced so far), depth, as these are full genomes that are sequenced rather than the snippets (SNPs in genomics terms) collected by genotyping databases, and, crucially, linkage, to other elements of patient data such as health records and pathology data as well as prescribing data in the near future, which provide the context that is vital for true insights and medical breakthroughs. Will looked forward to the next UK target of 5 million fully sequenced genomes analyses, which will usher in a step change in the utility of genomics to clinical research and development. 

The UK’s Life Science Industrial Strategy initiatives have also inspired the creation of the National Institute for Health Data science, Health Data Research UK. Ben Gordon outlined how this new organisation, in existence since April 2018, will operate and will create a world leading health data infrastructure that joins the dots across the numerous silos in which valuable health data is generated.

One way in which this will be done is via seven Health Data Research Data Hubs for the UK, focused either around specific disease areas or specific disciplines such as Real-World Evidence. IQVIA’s Yosh Cook and Dr Charlie Davie, the DATA-CAN hub Director, outlined how the hub focused around Cancer will work, and IQVIA’s role as one of the hub’s partners to deliver the vision to enable access to high quality data on cancer available for research, improved care delivery and clinical study.

The third session proved a hard hitting one, because it provided the voices of the most necessary and challenging of audiences – the patient and the payer. It’s always an extremely valuable and moving experience to hear the voice of the patient and patient advocate in healthcare industry meetings, and Dr Helen Bulbeck of brainstrust, the brain cancer advocacy network, delivered a powerful window into the lives of patients suffering brain cancer. She made the case for why patients should be at the beginning, not the end, of innovation’s journey to market, as well as providing pragmatic advice on the dos and don’ts for patient engagement success.

IQVIA’s evidence base and global perspective for UK context provided a great starting point for the next session- a friendly but robust exchange of ideas and perspectives on the uptake and funding of innovative medicines between IQVIA’s Angela McFarlane and NHS England’s Commercial Medicines Director, Blake Dark. Angela laid out the challenges and opportunities of the UK market for pharma, highlighting the great work that’s been done to keep the funding and uptake of innovation at the forefront of the medicines agenda, as well as outlining the areas where much work still needs to be done. Blake was unfortunately constrained in his remarks by the strictures of election purdah, but even with these constraints gave a fascinating and sympathetic insight into the way in which NHS England thinks when making access and funding decisions – invaluable intelligence for Biotech companies starting their journey to market access understanding and success.

Finally, the Biotech journey came to commercialisation. IQVIA’s Sarah Rickwood made the case for why there has never been a better time for Biotech companies to commercialise their own innovation - a swift poll of the audience found that they overwhelmingly agreed with her. IQVIA’s Andy Pollpeter took an international view, discussing the challenges of the biggest Biotech prize of all: the US market. 

Dr Michael Bennett, of the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, finished our presentations with a fascinating outline of the manufacturing challenges faced by Cell and Gene Therapy companies, and how a pooled approach to building manufacturing facilities and manufacturing and development expertise is vital for these highly sophisticated therapies, where cost of goods is a major consideration, and the logistics of creating and delivering the therapies unlike any challenge faced by Pharma companies before.

Iain McGill, the CEO of Quell Therapeutics provided knowledgeable compering and summary of each session throughout the day, and the audience provided a stream of relevant and engaging questions, as well as extremely positive feedback on the event, specifically praising IQVIA’s outreach and relevance to smaller start up and biotech organisations.